I’ve stayed at a couple dozen AirBnB properties over the last few years and though some have been simply amazing and others simply average, I really can’t say I’ve had a truly bad experience with finding lodgings using this website. Until now.
Because I began writing this on Easter Sunday, and because I can’t in good faith claim that I am staying in “hell”, I will refer to this as “The AirBnB from Heck.” I think that’s fair. I reserved this place back in December for a month long stay beginning at the end of March. My first mistake was booking the place despite the fact that there were no prior reviews of the property on AirBnB. That did concern me, but when I questioned the owner about it she replied, and I quote, “We just started to rent the condo after having it renovated.” Silly me, I thought that this meant I was going to be the first guest in a newly renovated condo. There were not many photos of the place on the website, but I knew it was located on the 7th floor of a beachfront condo complex in Panama City Beach, Florida and had a balcony overlooking the Gulf. How bad could things be?
Upon arrival I was confronted by a group of several buildings, and a parking lot as large as one might find in a mall – a mall at Christmastime, because after searching for a parking place for several minutes, I had about a 10-minute walk to the entrance of my building. Luckily there were luggage carts to help me bring in all my stuff, but it was still an exhausting process. I ascended to the 7th floor on the elevator, opened the door to my unit with great anticipation, and almost immediately, my heart sank.
The apartment is on two levels: there’s a bedroom and bath as you enter the unit, and then a flight of stairs takes you to the living room, and kitchen/dining area. The first thing I noticed when I opened the door was the carpeting leading upstairs. At one time I assume it was tan, but it is now old and blotched with dark stains and what appears to be drops of white paint. The 1970s gold shag that I loathed so much in my former apartment in San Francisco looked plush by comparison. I made a mental note to myself that I would not be running up and down these stairs in bare feet… or white socks. Ick.
The place has most definitely NOT been renovated; it is in dire need of maintenance and a thorough cleaning. Sinks and cabinets are pitted and stained; lamp shades look like someone threw them around the room, with cracks and pieces peeling off them. There is no dining room table or chairs; it’s just a totally empty room. The kitchen is so small and lacks counter space, so cooking anything is going to be a challenge. There was no coffee maker, and there were no ceiling fans, as the AirBnB ad had indicated. No matter how many buttons I pushed on the remotes, I couldn’t get either of the TV sets to work. Worst of all, the place was just gritty and dusty and unsavory, with smudges on the mirrors and sliding glass doors. When I opened the doors to the balcony, the stiff breeze blew dust bunnies from under the furniture and down the hallway. I was pretty shocked and very disappointed and immediately contacted the owner to complain.
The owner and her boyfriend came over and were able to get the TVs working. They brought over a new coffee maker and made a half-hearted attempt to do a little dusting and wipe down the sinks, and as they left, she said they’d refund my cleaning deposit, so that is some consolation. Thus began my month long stay in Heck.
As I said, there are some good points about the place that keep it from being Hell. The building is located right on the beach, and I have an enviable view looking east toward Panama City Beach. The complex has an enormous, heated indoor/outdoor swimming pool and it’s open till 11PM. There are two major grocery stores within a quarter of a mile, as well as a great fish market and a restaurant called the Donut Hole that serves up hearty breakfasts and makes sublime key lime cream filled donuts.
Because the interior of the apartment was not terribly homey, I did a lot of interesting day trips to get out of the house. I dearly love the Pensacola Beach/Navarre area 70 miles west of here, so I made a few trips over that way to revel in the snow white, powdery sand and gaze at the turquoise waters. The beaches at Panama City are nice, but the ones closer to Pensacola are on a whole other level. This time I saw my first sea turtle in Florida, a huge specimen with a head as big as my fist who peeked out above the surface to check me out. I also had a visit for a four-foot-tall heron who casually strolled by, stared out to sea beside me for a few minutes, and then ran off down the beach doing an amazing impersonation of the Road Runner cartoon character.
Another day I headed southeast to Cape San Blas and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. On the Bay side of the peninsula I found an amazingly colorful, shallow, sandy bay to explore that was inhabited by a wide variety of birds. The calm bay contrasted sharply with the Gulf side beach that was being scoured by some pretty impressive waves. On the trip back I drove inland through the Apalachicola National Forest, and the blues, whites and tans of the beach were temporarily replaced with a dozen shades of green.
Closer to “home”, I spent an interesting afternoon at St. Andrews State Park on the eastern end of Panama City Beach. I hiked a short trail to Gator Lake. As if to justify the lake’s name I discovered a 5 or 6 foot long alligator cleverly pretending to be a log in the water at the end of the trail. Later I found an even larger gator in the water beneath a wooden observation platform. Other tourists told me that when they had walked out on the platform, this gator came swimming across the lake like an obedient dog. While I was observing the gator, a park ranger came by and told me that some fool has been feeding this guy rotisserie chickens and the park staff are trying to catch him in the act. It is of course illegal to feed the gators, and unfortunately, this person has now conditioned the alligator to come to this pier as soon as it hears human activity. I actually saw what looked like a Cheeto in the water near the gator’s snout, and this appeared to be another foolish act of trying to feed the wildlife. The ranger told me that in all likelihood this gator will have to be killed, because it has learned to associate the presence of people with getting fed, making it more likely that it would attack someone if given the chance. The ranger was passionate about wanting to catch the person who was doing this, and I hope he is able to do so soon.
This is a beautiful park, with an amazing variety of birds nesting in the trees high above the gators. If I were a baby bird, though, I’d be very careful not to fall out of that nest for fear of being mistaken for a rotisserie chicken! After my gator-watching, I had a swim in the calm lagoon at the park, separated from the open ocean by a breakwater. It made for a wonderful day.
Things back at the apartment continued to try my patience. It seemed there were new problems every week. One of the fluorescent lights in the kitchen burned out and there was no replacement bulb. The wi-fi dies about three times a day, requiring the router to be restarted. When the internet freezes, so does the TV and so I miss a lot of whatever program I happen to be watching at that moment. Early in my stay I thought I saw something dart across the living room floor, and I just assumed it was a gecko, but over the next few days I got a better look and realized that I had some huge cockroaches playing hide and seek with me as they run out from under the couch, see me, and run back. Here in Florida they are eloquently referred to as Palmetto bugs, but they are basically roaches the size of a half dollar coin! Hell! OK… heck!
We’ve also had some rather bizarre weather here; on many days the temperature never got out of the 50s, and there have been really high winds that have made the Gulf too rough for swimming for a lot of the time I’ve been here. The beaches fly red flags on days when the conditions are too dangerous for swimming or even wading, and I’ve seen red flags four out of seven days a week on average. Thankfully since Easter, the crowds that were staying here have thinned out considerably and I’ve been able to park much closer ti the building and I’ve had the pool to myself on several afternoons. The winds also make it difficult to enjoy the balcony; when I open the sliding glass doors, it is as if the jet stream itself is blasting through the apartment, blowing things off the little tables in the living room and a few times knocking over the tables themselves! The wind howls and shakes the blinds in the dining area, creating an ungodly, heckish racket that requires me to quickly close the doors again.
I would not rent this apartment again, and I’m sort of glad to be checking out tomorrow. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some beautiful memories of my time here. I would live in a hovel if it was by the ocean; I simply never tire of the changing moods and colors of the sea, and I’ve experienced a little bit of everything in these few weeks of living on the Gulf.
But perhaps the most spectacular sight was the morning when I woke up and noticed I couldn’t hear the usual crashing of the surf. There was also no wind, and when I looked outside, I was almost startled by the amazing beauty I was confronted with. The Gulf had turned into a placid, turquoise pool for as far as the eye could see. I was simply mesmerized and incredibly grateful to witness this transformation. There would absolutely not be any red flags flying today!
And so, my month in Heck is over, and though I will chuckle at the memory of some of the things that made it so heck-ish, I will also fondly cherish the memory of some of the heavenly moments too.